Any attempt to analyze China’s comprehensive labor reform over the past three decades faces at least two dilemmas. First, the analyst must confront the task of describing how the Chinese state has dismantled the “work unit” (or danwei)- based “iron rice bowl” employment and entitlements system, replacing that comforting but low-production employment and social security scheme with formally-proclaimed legal rights and institutions apparently designed to protect employees in a functioning labor market. Second, the analyst must track how the state’s commitment (at all levels of government) to implementation of proclaimed legal and institutional protections has waxed and waned, based upon two China-specific factors: (i) the age-old dysfunction between formallyproclaimed legal norms and concrete application of those norms generally, or against superior political or economic power specifically; and (ii) the ongoing deference to a national development policy that puts accelerating economic growth before legal, civil and political rights (where achieved growth is meant to complement the appearance of rule of law in ensuring political stability and some measure of the “harmonious society”).
Howson, Nicholas C. Review of Understanding Labor and Employment Law in China, by Ronald C.Brown. Law & Pol. Bk. Rev. 20, no. 8 (2010): 319-28.